What’s grinding Michael Moore’s gears in 2018? Everything, apparently. I’ve been a fan of Moore’s for nearly two decades at this point — with the caveat that I have never considered him a documentarian, at least in any literal definition of the term — but a fan nonetheless, due largely to his capacity to craft an entertaining narrative around a central conceit while never getting too hung up on documentary ethics. I assumed the same would be true of Fahrenheit 11/9, a film billed as Moore’s triumphant takedown of Donald Trump. This, sadly, proved not to be the case.
Fahrenheit 11/9 is functionally an amalgam of three incomplete films, hastily slapped together and marketed as a Trump film in the hopes of garnering some topically driven ticket sales in advance of this year’s midterm elections. Maybe 45 minutes of Fahrenheit 11/9’s excessive 128-minute running time deals directly with Trump, and roughly a third of that consisting of sight gags like dubbing his voice over footage of Hitler speaking in front of a rally from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will. The rest of the film is focused on the water crisis in Moore’s hometown of Flint, Mich., and the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. While Moore does attempt to tie all of this to a central thesis regarding Trump, the disjointed and disorganized nature of his arguments comes across something like late-period Andy Rooney ranting about the kids these days.
It’s still a Moore film, dealing with his most well-trodden topics. There are gun-control arguments and accusations of government corruption and ineptitude in keeping with Moore’s aw-shucks brand of activism, but the central through line ostensibly bringing these threads together is tenuously established at best. In short, it’s not the Moore Trump film I was hoping for. Nevertheless, it does bring something to the table, even if it feels distinctly like a missed opportunity.
In Moore’s inchoate ramblings, there’s more than a kernel of truth. The trappings may be a bit threadbare, and while Moore has never been shy about preaching to the choir — which is exactly what Fahrenheit 11/9 amounts to — there’s nothing here in any danger of persuading the unconverted. Even as rabble-rousing liberal sentiment, it’s unlikely to anger the MAGA diehards, as it presents little in the way of new revelations or inflammatory evidence.
Had Moore organized his arguments more cogently or structured his film more coherently, Fahrenheit 11/9 might have been a crowning achievement of his idiosyncratic oeuvre — Trump’s presidency is, after all, the lowest-hanging fruit in living memory for someone of Moore’s ilk. But as it stands, we have a meandering narrative that doesn’t hold together much better than the conspiracy theories espoused by the likes of Alex Jones, which is truly unfortunate given the timeliness of the pressing issues Moore’s engaging. It could have been better, it could have been worse, but it’s a disappointing miss for those who were eagerly awaiting the evisceration of Trump that only Michael Moore could deliver.